On Thursday November 19, 2015, the University Sustainability Office and Office of International Affairs partnered to produce the third and final Global Issues Seminar of the fall 2015 semester entitled “The Energy We Consume”. The seminar featured three panelists from three different departments on campus; Dr. Veronica Augustyn from Materials Science & Engineering, Dr. Joe DeCarolis from Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering, and Ms. Lisa Marshall from Nuclear Engineering. The three panelists all gave brief presentations before taking questions from the audience. I heard about this seminar, and the preceding ones, through the NC State Sustainability Office’s social media pages and newsletter. I am really interested in sustainability and energy, so I decided to attend this particular seminar just to learn more about what different departments on campus are working on in this field. Attending these seminars is a great way to make professional connections, whether it is with the panelists, other faculty in attendance, or even other students who share the same interests as you. I would highly encourage everyone to attend a seminar like this, I’ve found them very insightful and a great way to become exposed to all that NC State has to offer its’ students! And a word of advice, choose one that is of some interest to you so you are interested and engaged during the entire seminar!
Dr. Augustyn’s presentation, titled “Materials for Sustainable Electrochemical Technologies,” was focused on creating a new energy paradigm by converting chemical bonds into electrical energy. Electrochemical energy storage and conversion has been around for hundreds of years, but better materials are needed for developing new technologies that can store more energy or do a better job of converting energy. Currently, this type of technology has the most impact on the portable electronics industry, but has the potential to impact sustainable energy in the future, particularly in developing countries that do not have ready access to electricity. At NC State, current research focuses on grid energy storage, and Dr. Augustyn also leads a group called Scibridge which works with schools in Africa to improve their access to science, engineering, and renewable technology.
Following her presentation, Dr. DeCarolis, whose presentation was also titled “The Energy We Consume,” talked about the current types of energy used in the world and what we need to do in order to control climate change. Reserves of oil, coal, and natural gas have actually increased over the past twenty years or so. Basically, we have plenty of the fuels we currently use for energy for the significant future, but in regards to climate change, these conventional and unconventional sources emit a lot of CO2. Currently, 9 billion tons of carbon are being emitted worldwide, and climate change is occurring. At a change of only 2 degrees Celsius, ecosystems and endangered species are threatened, and as the number of degrees increases, the effects worsen. In order to limit climate change to 3.5 degrees Celsius, we would need to have 3 terawatts of carbon free power by 2100, which we are nowhere near reaching right now. Currently, only 500 gigawatts of energy come from carbon free fuel sources.
Finally, Ms. Marshall spoke about the current state of nuclear energy and the direction the field is heading. In the United States, there are 99 operational nuclear reactors producing 20% of U.S. power. Most of the plants in the U.S. are located on the east coast, with North Carolina having 4 plants that produce 34.5% of its’ power. Around the world, there are 438 nuclear plants, with many more being developed in Asian countries like China. France has the largest percentage of its energy come from nuclear compared to all other countries. Nuclear is very much a viable energy source according to Ms. Marshall, since 1 pellet is equal to 149 gallons of oil or 1 ton of coal. Unfortunately, one of the biggest problems with using nuclear energy is storing the spent fuel. Also, the use of nuclear energy for unsafe purposes (i.e. terrorism) is also a concern in the current world. Overall, this panelist discussion was very insightful and provided a unique view of the world’s current energy state and what the future holds for us.